Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Teachable Moment

A belated Merry Christmas everyone. Like many of you I've been eating, drinking and spending time with family, including my 60ish, conservative leaning, Liberal voting, talkback radio listening father. Now, he knows I'm a massive lefty, so keeps most of his views quiet when I'm around (and certainly I like to avoid political arguments at Christmas, in front of Mr G) .

Nonetheless, in a discussion over coffee and cake about the changing face of Sydney, Dad did mention that he finds the full face burqa confronting.

And as a straight white middle aged man, he's probably never been confronted by anything in public.

So I said "it's interesting that you find yourself confronted by someone in public, because as women, we are aware of risk and danger when we go out in public all the time, constantly, every single time. Because the risk of something happening is real, and that's why you don't sit next to the lone man on the bus, or cross the street when you see a group of guys you think have had a few drinks."

I could see he was incredulous, so I told him. I told him of some of the instances of street harassment and assault that I, my sisters, and women I know have faced over the years.

The man on a crowded Sydney New Years Eve who stuck his hand between my legs than vanished before I  could confront him.

The Seven-Eleven clerk who pocketed my sister's keys when she held out a loyalty card on her keyring to be swiped.

The stranger at Strathfield station who called me a "lezzo" when I refused his invitation to go home with him.

The time I was pulled into a laneway in Newcastle and groped.

The man on the bus who groped my sister, underage at the time.

The many times I was called some variant on "ugly bitch" for politely declining to talk to strange men.

That this sort of thing has died down for me in recent years as I've gotten older and worn a wedding ring, but there was the Saturday morning a year or so ago I was taking the bus to uni to get the peace and quiet studying that having a small child in the house does not afford, and a guy sat next to me despite that there were lots of empty seats available, pressed his body up against me and said "I just want to take you out of your comfort zone". I climbed to an empty seat and when I arrived at the university library, sat too shocked to study, tears of indignant rage in my eyes, thinking how dare you do that to...anyone.

And as I told him all this, I could see my father going from incredulous to shocked, and angry.

I explained this is what happens, in a culture that still sees women as a commodity of men. Which asks what a woman was doing out at that hour, or wearing that. Which will apologise to the male partner of the woman he has propositioned, not the woman herself. Which angrily accuses women of destroying the joint. Who points to this or that politician's untrustworthiness as being emblematic of her sex, not her character. In that culture, it's hardly surprising that so many men feel they can get away with harassing and assaulting women. It's not like they'll be called out on it. It's not like they'll be reported to the police.

"Why don't women talk about this?" Dad asked.

Well, women are starting to talk about it, now, finally; I've noticed a real increase in women sharing their experiences of street harassment since I wrote the post I linked about in December 2012 (not saying I had anything to do with it of course, just that the dialogue has opened up since then).

Let's talk about it more. Let's not be ashamed. If we're groped on a bus, let's stand up and shout "hey everyone, check out this creep". Let's talk about it, so we can all - men and women - be aware of what goes on and be able to step in to support anyone we see facing this. Let's make perpetrators know they can't do this, they can't harass and grope women in public, that they will be called out and shamed and held to account. Let's make them think, and stop before they even start.

Anyway, I wrapped up my teachable moment by saying "you know, next time you hear someone say men and women are equal under the law so we don't need feminism and feminists just want superiority, remember this is why I'm a feminist, this is what feminism is fighting for, because women are still facing this shit everyday".

I'm glad we had this conversation.

Edit: I received this message from a friend who read this post:

Every woman has these stories. The time I was called a slut in year 9 (I was 14) because I wouldn’t have sex with one of the boys. The time I was verbally abused (called an ugly cunt) at Summernats because I wouldn’t have sex with one of the men. The countless times where I’ve been felt up in clubs & bars. The times men have walked out of their way to come & sit next to me when there are other seats around. When I am at the shops & I’m leered at by other customers. When I am in a shop & the assistant stares at my breasts while putting my items through the till.

Every woman, I believe. I'd like to share our stories, so if you'd like to share, drop me a line. Of course you can be anonymous if you wish.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

My Tempestuous Relationship With Opal

Ignore the haters who say an arts degree won't get you anywhere. Photo: Business Insider

So the Opal card system turned three this week. And it doesn't look a day over what do you mean the bloody Opal reader isn't working.

I have a love-hate relationship with Opal. God knows Sydney was long overdue for an automated ticketing system - it was first proposed to have one in place for the 2000 Olympics, but the final product wasn't implemented until 12 years later - and the Byzantine array of weeklies, monthlies, travel tens and excursions needed fixing. Now there's just one reusable card for everything, tap on, tap off, what could be easier and you don't even have to talk to anyone. Tremendous, right?

But there are some...issues. The system is infamous for the number of non-functioning readers. Sometimes this means a free journey (though that can be frustrating itself when you're trying to get reward, on which more shortly). But more often, because you can't tap off, a non-functioning reader means you get slugged the default maximum fare for the trip; sure, you can ring up and dispute it, but who has the time? There's also issues with topping up the balance; I was once housebound for several days after spending the last $20 in my bank account topping up my Opal then learning a glitch in the system meant it would take days for the money to show up on my card.

My biggest problem though is with the travel reward system. The way it works is that once you have made 8 paid journeys in a week, your travel is free for the rest of the week. I travel regularly to Sydney, Newcastle and points in between, so this can save me a lot of money if done right. The cheapest way to do it is by making lots of the cheapest journeys early in the week. When I lived in Sydney, I'd do the light rail Opal card cheat most Mondays, but now, if I can be bothered, I spend my Mondays confounding the bus drivers and irritating fellow passengers by walking down the road, catching the bus one stop, then walking back home again once an hour for 8 hours, It's pretty tedious, so I don't always get around to it.

But it's expensive if I don't. It can take me a bus, a long train ride, then another bus to get to uni, say, and Opal has this annoying quirk where if you change modes of transport, you get charged for a separate trip but it does not count as a paid journey.

Also, I liked the "set and forget" option of a monthly or longer ticket. I like knowing I've got unlimited travel. With the Opal reward system, I feel like I'm playing a game and every Monday morning at 4am my score gets reset to zero. No matter how hard I work to get that reward, I've only got a few days to enjoy the free travel before I have to start all over again. Combined with that I have Mr G on the weekends, and all my day-dreamed trips to Kiama and the Blue Mountains and the Southern Highlands just never seem to happen.

Plus, and it's a minor quibble, but tapping off for myself and a four year old who refuses to co-operate when trying to wrangle said four year old, textbooks and shopping is a pain in the tuckus.

Hopefully they work out some of these kinks soon (although after initially encouraging people to "cheat" by racking up cheap journeys to get free travel later, there have been some noises from the government that they intend to close the loophole). Allowing for switching of transport modes to count as separate journeys for the reward would be great. An option to pay a set sum for a longer period would be even better. Fix the malfunctioning readers. Then bring back the dancing foam Opal Man.

Friday, December 04, 2015

RIP Scott Weiland

When yet another of the idols of your youth has died, and yet another little bit of you has died with them. It's a bit weird, cause we all saw this coming for twenty years, we've seen several sources proclaiming his death from reputable sources, and it turns out to not be true. And now it is true, and it may not be a surprise but it's still a shock, and it still fucking hurts.

Death thou shalt die; you think you have our measure but you don't. 

No Australian Gun massacres? Not Quite

Following this week's (this week's! How we mark these things now) gun massacre in the United States, the usual response swings into place, so rehearsed by now it might as well be scripted. Footage of terrified victims being evacuated, local officials giving statements; President Obama addresses the nation looking grave; and the issue of gun control is raised again. The pro gun lobby will argue that the problem here is mental illness, not access to guns (although in this latest shooting, given the perpetrators were Muslim, it is of course being labelled terrorism); gun control advocates will favour reigning in America's absurd appetite for firearms, pointing to the Australian example, where following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, a guns buy back was enacted, tough new guns laws enforced, and there have been no mass shootings since.

I'm not an American and have stopped trying to get involved in their gun control debates; Lord knows, there's enough frustrating and overwhelming social problems here for me to worry about. (Besides, it's hard to escape the depressing conclusion someone posted on Twitter - that the US gun debate ended after Sandy Hook; that once killing kids became acceptable in the name of gun rights, it was all over).

But by the FBI definition of a mass shooting as the deaths of "four or more persons during an event with no cooling off period", then there has been a mass shooting in Australia, little more than a year ago. And with the increased awareness of domestic violence following Sarah Ferguson's brilliant Hitting Home documentary series, it would add insult to tragedy if their deaths were written off as simply due to a "domestic incident".

We shouldn't forget about the Hunt family - Kim, Fletcher, Mia and Phoebe - murdered by the man who was supposed to love and protect them, their father, Geoff.

Photo: Les Smith via Fairfax
The facts are stark. On the night of 7 September 2014, Geoff Hunt shot his wife Kim, son Fletcher, 10, and daughters Mia, 8, and Phoebe, 6, to death at their south western NSW farmhouse before committing suicide at a nearby dam.

The narrative which followed was galling. Geoff Hunt was described over and over as a lovely guy, a family man, who just snapped following the pressures of caring for his wife Kim, who sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2012. He was portrayed as lovingly caring for his children whilst she struggled with mood swings and rage. How much Mrs Hunt struggled with her injuries, or that her disabilities made her more vulnerable to domestic violence, were seldom mentioned. Nor that Mr Hunt was not making a loving sacrifice on the last night of his family's life, but an egotistical decision to slaughter them all that points to a sense of male entitlement at the heart of so many domestic violence cases; I own you, I control you, you belong to me and I will make decisions of life and death on your behalf. Pain and despair may have driven Mr Hunt to suicide; ego and rage caused him to take his family with him.

Not everyone has ignored the true horror of what this man did to those who trusted him most. The NSW Coroner Michael Barnes, in the recent inquest into the deaths, stated, "Massacres must not be swept under the carpet merely because they occurred in the home of the deceased at the hands of a family member...What Geoff Hunt did was inexcusable, the absolute worst of crimes". There's also this excellent piece from Nina Funnell. But their story is still framed in the national discourse, for the most part, as the heroic Dad saving his family.

In writing this post, I don't for a second want to give ammo to opponents of gun control ("An Australian says their gun control laws don't work!". But largely the deaths of the Hunt family have been swept under the carpet, because they happened at home, out of sight and unseen. If a mother and her three children were shot in some public area, maybe in the Sydney CBD there would be  floral tributes, services at the major cathedrals, the Premier in attendance at a candlelight vigil. The Hunt family died alone, died hidden, their deaths seen as a family tragedy not a mass murder, and only made worse by pretending they never existed.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Why I'm Really A Lefty

I've heard gay people explain how they knew they were gay when they were six; before they even knew what gay was.

 Well, I knew I was a socialist at six before I knew what socialism was, or really anything about politics. Visiting Sydney's home of waterfront mansions, Palm Beach, with my parents I overheard them talking wistfully about "how the other half live". I knew that you got money from work, so I didn't understand - my father worked two jobs, he would be away from home working for weeks at a time, how could you do all that work and not be rich? Were there other ways to get rich? It didn't seem very fair.

 My knowledge of political economy has expanded somewhat from there, but my basic political philosophy remains the same. If you work hard, and are a good person, then barring calamity nothing bad should happen to you. If you are unable to work for whatever reason, those who do enjoy that good fortune, through taxes, should allow you to live a life of modest comfort and dignity. I've written extensively about my political beliefs in the past; you can get the gist here, and that's not what I wanted to write about today. No, it was a small realisation that my political beliefs may have been formed not due to envy, but something more unsettling.

My family were fairly apolitical; my parents didn't become citizens until I was well into my teens, so I didn't even experience the Aussie childhood ritual of lining up with your parents for democracy sausage. Unlike my kid, who has been to climate marches and refugee rallies and picketed outside Kirribilli house for Aboriginal land rights, all I knew of protests were my father's disdain of them. There were no political discussions around the table, no friends who told us of their work on campaigns. And yet I remember, for example, at the age of nine being bitterly disappointed that George Bush beat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 US Presidential election. Why? Why was I instinctively leaning left at such a young age?

 I worked out why. The only regular exposure I had to any form of political content was my father's love of talk back radio. We spent extensive hours in the car, stop-starting on the streets of Sydney, with possible smoking (I can't remember and don't want to ask). I do remember that I was extensively, lavishly, ridiculously car sick across the city. (I vomited under the Coke sign on William Street long before I ever had a taste of alcohol). And whilst I was sitting in my misery, or pulling over so I could dispense my stomach contents across the Sydney metropolitan area, there were John Laws and Alan Jones, droning on about referring to the Bicentennial as Invasion Day, and that Peter Garrett was a misguided fool, and how terrible the Hawke government was, and how ridiculous the Sex Discrimination Act was, and whatever other issues were exercising right wing nut jobs in the 1980s. I've thankfully blocked out most of the details, but I can see now that I was indoctrinated from an early age, in my way, that conservatives make me sick.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Newcastle off the Rails


I've been at times a bit rough on my fellow Novocastrians (I will always consider myself one even though I don't live there right now). I've long stated Newcastle's city motto should be "getting all worked up over nothing". Goodness me, how they love to argue! Give them any issue - entry fees into swimming pools, say, or whether some trees should be removed - and they will fight to the death, on twitter and the comments section of the Newcastle Herald, with personal insults and accusations of bias, until you get the impression it's the argument that's the point here, not the issue at hand.

However, there is one area where Novocastrians could be justified in getting a little crazy, and that's the matter of public transport. To background: in December 2014, the heavy rail line that branched off the main Northern line into the centre of Newcastle's CBD was closed. The closure came after many years of debate, which people expressed weariness of; the problem is, the debate was never going to conclude with the result "okay, the line stays". The train line cut across very valuable, and beautiful, waterfront land (the beauty of Newcastle takes my breath away some tines) and powerful people wanted the heavy rail gone.

And so did I. What? Nico favours closing a rail line? Well, sort of. The idea was, in theory, that the heavy rail line would be replaced by light rail. The heavy rail, with its fences and overhead wiring, created an enormous physical barrier between the CBD and foreshore, so I was in favour of removing it if, and only if, the heavy rail was replaced by light rail along the same corridor, The light rail could travel more frequently, with more stops, and offer greater convenience whilst allowing people to easily walk across the line from the water to the shops.

It was never going to happen, The rail line should never have closed until construction of light rail was pretty much ready to get underway. Instead, it was closed without even a definite plan in place for the light rail - and nearly a year later, there still isn't one. We learn today that the government has been, for the last fifteen months (and prior to the closure of the heavy rail) sitting on a report stating the business case for the light rail is flawed, and it has failed 7 of the 9 criteria it has been assessed against. That's it. We have no viable plans, no agreed route, no construction schedule, no starting date.

Personally, I don't think the light rail was ever going to be built, and it certainly won't now. The government will quietly shelve the plans, or hold off until it completes privatising the public transport network (a plan they announced out of the blue never took to an election), then Veolia or Transdev or whoever else wins the contract will announce that they're terribly sorry, but the light  rail just isn't viable; it's sad but what can they do.

And we'll have more of the same as now, like the last time I was in Newcastle with a hot and bothered four year old and had to wait forty minutes for one of the "frequent" rail replacement buses, and we missed our connecting train at Hamilton and had to wait nearly an hour for the next one.

And the land will be sold to developers, because if there's one thing Newcastle desperately needs, it's more new apartments for downsizing baby boomers.

It may not be the worst thing the state government has done, certainly not with all the closing of shelters for victims of domestic violence and selling off public housing. But Newcastle gets screwed yet again, the wishes and votes of the community ignored, the needs of the population (including the new uni campus in town being constructed with no parking spaces to encourage the use of public transport that now no longer exists) disregarded.

Secession doesn't seem so crazy, and you can understand why people get so upset.

Note: I always miss out on NaNoWriMo and NaNoBlogMo cause of exams, so I'll be attempting to blog every day in December. Join us, won't you? #BlogDec  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Acknowledging International Men's Day

November 19 marks International Men's Day. No, I'm not mocking it or the people who celebrate it, and I'm not facetiously asking what other opportunities have their been for the achievements of men to be celebrated. Because IMD isn't, shouldn't be about that.

The recent rise of the men's rights movement has. somewhat ironically, proved a point that feminists have been making for decades - that there are issues that affect men and women differently on the basis of gender. It doesn't mean that these issues never affect anyone of the other  sex and/or gender. But this is why domestic violence is frequently, and correctly, framed as a feminist issue; it does disproportionately affect women, and no matter how many times men's rights activists state "1 in 3 victims are men" or "women can be just as violent" it doesn't arise out of a vacuum, or from the individual actions of violent men or women, but from a society underpinned by notions of different power roles of men and women. And no amount of stating 'we should condemn violence against everyone" will change that.

But on IMD, we should focus on the areas where men are disadvantaged; such as in educational outcomes, suicide rates, as victims of violence in general. These are areas where men come off worse, and we need to talk about why, and what we can do to try to make it better. That's what we mean when we say the patriarchy hurts men and women, It creates a toxic masculinity where are young men are still taking swings at each other on boozy nights out and driving to fast and failing to engage with help and support services and feeling there's no way out but to end it all. And they're only going to fall further behind, with the dismantling of trades training and the rise of the mandatory degree for even entry level jobs, boys who are not being engaged by the education system risk becoming further marginalised. More fights, despair, addiction, lives ruined and lost.

Unfortunately you wouldn't know this from the men's rights movement, certainly it seems to ignore such issues in favour of an obsession with false rape allegations and denying the gendered issue of domestic violence.

It suits the agenda of men's rights activists and the women who support them to claim feminists hate men. We don't. We have male partners and friends and brothers and sons we adore. They also claim that women are now equal, even have it better than men, and men's rights is just a way of reclaiming equality. No. There are still too many areas where women are subject to misogyny and disadvantage, and that's why I'm a feminist. But we certainly have it different, and I think it is important on this day to look at the problems and challenges that men and boys  

Saturday, November 07, 2015

How does Andrew Bolt get away with this?

I often wonder how Andrew Bolt gets away with writing the stuff he does. No, not the constant stream of vile racist rubbish. We've already been there, done that.

I mean how he gets away with - and gets paid for - publishing up to ten posts a day of cut and pasted junk that defies the most basic logic and would insult the intelligence of a bright 11 year old (but not a Herald Sun reader).

To wit, today, under a column entitled "What drowning seas?" he claims contradicts the sea level rise predictions of "warmists" (nonce word that, may as well call those advocating for vaccination "diseasists") and then consists in its entirety text taken from another site:

I stumbled the other day across a user-friendly website for actual sea-level data (no forecasting or homogenising involved). It’s not one of those sceptic sites, like joannenova.com.au, but from NOAA, America’s National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. NOAA tracks sea-level movements around the globe via tide gauges.
Try starting with the NOAA sea data for Sydney (Fort Denison) and Fremantle.
The Sydney data go all the way back to 1886. The reference point is a plug in the northern wall of the Department of Lands Building in Bridge Street. There are other plugs in the stone wall on Fort Denison and Mrs Macquarie’s Point.
For the period 1886-2010, the sea level at Fort Denison rose by 0.65mm/year, a rate of 6.5cm per century. That is a fifth of a foot, in other words.
So tiny? Some mistake, surely! Let’s check the Sydney numbers against those for Fremantle, 4000km to the west. In this case, the reference point is a little brass plate set in concrete below a cover plate at the inshore corner of ‘A berth’ landing. From 1897 to 2010, the average annual rise at Fremantle was 1.54mm, or 15.4cm or a mere 6 inches per century.
So head north to Bundaberg and Townsville, and all you get is 5.8cm and 14.8cm per century, respectively, a few inches and half a foot. Criss-cross to t’other side, Port Hedland (21.8cm/century) and Carnarvon (28.9cm/century). That’s a bit higher, but we’re still only talking of barely a foot in 100 years.
Over to NZ then, let’s spread our sample.  Same boring story, 12-23cm per century. So head for those drowning Pacific isles, Tuvalu and Kiribati. Tuvalu gets an average annual rise (since 1977) of 3.74mm or 37cm a century: 15 inches. This rate could become a problem in 30-50 years if the islanders maintain their high birth rate and continue degrading their environment. Even so, the island chain’s surface area is growing, not drowning.[vi]
But here’s Kiribati: a mere 6cm per century, a few inches. Then there’s the Cook Islands (15cm per century or half a foot), Palau just a tad higher, and the Marshall Islands, higher again at 36cm, or 14in.. But those statue-building descendants on Easter Island can relax: their vast Pacific Ocean surrounds are rising at a mere 3.3cm per century, or not quite 2 inches in a 100 years.
Numbers like this spoil the narrative of our coastal-catastrophes-to-come.
When  I first heard people say "you know, I don't believe this global warming tripe. Plenty of hot days when I was a kid", I actually thought they were joking. Surely they couldn't be that stupid, to confuse weather and climate, to not understand the concept of overall trends. But then I realised people were actually serious when they disregarded global warming cause it's always seemed hot to them.
So it is with this. I'm sure a lot of people will read it and think well there's more proof against this alarmist nonsense. See! Sea levels only rose a little bit over the past 100 years. Look at that tiny annual average. Everything is fine.
But where it should strain the credulity of anyone intelligent enough to sit upright in a chair is that we can somehow use this data to ignore future predictions about sea level rise. Come on Mr Bolt, surely you can't believe this. Maybe I could average the number of, say, emails sent worldwide per year since 1886 and say that proves the number of emails sent per year in the future? Or, let's use a figure you'd understand and use to push your Islamaphobic agenda, how many Australians have been killed per year on average in Islamic terrorist attacks since 1886? If we use that number to predict the risk of terrorist attacks in future, that doesn't really seem like something worth worrying about now, does it?
I honestly don't think Andrew Bolt is that stupid. I don't think he does believe it. But he's smart enough to peddle it to manipulate a bunch of people gullible enough they will believe, without a moment's critical analysis, that this data disproves the chance of sea level rise in future, and global warming generally. And thus certain it's all a hoax, they'll vote accordingly. And that is what's so galling. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kathleen Folbigg is a monster who should not be in jail

What could be more horrific, more disturbing to the fundamental principles of humanity, than a mother who kills her children?

Who could be more of a monster, more the epitome of everything we fear and despise, than Kathleen Folbigg?

Folbigg achieved notoriety in 2003 when she was convicted for the deaths of her four children – Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura – over a ten year period. She was convicted of manslaughter over the death of her first child, Caleb, and murder of the subsequent three children.

The deaths of the earlier children aroused no suspicion and were attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is a diagnosis often made in the absence of evidence of cause of death, when an infant dies unexpectedly in their sleep. It was the death of the fourth child, Laura, which drew Folbigg to the attention of authorities; at 19 months old, she was well past the traditional danger age for SIDS, and had been by all accounts a healthy child. There was much debate as to whether multiple SIDS deaths in one family were statistically improbable, or whether there was a familial risk where one death made subsequent deaths more likely.

But there was no forensic evidence showing the children had been deliberately killed.

With the lack of forensic evidence, a key tool in the conviction of Mrs Folbigg was her personal diaries. The diaries, given by Mrs Folbigg’s husband Craig to police after she left the family home following the death of her fourth child Laura and presented as evidence at trial, appeared to show her admitting guilt for the deaths of her children. The defence argued the diaries showed only her feelings of grief and guilt at the deaths of her children:


“With Sarah, all I wanted was her to shut up. And one day she did”



‘Scared she’ll leave me now. Like Sarah did. I was short tempered and cruel sometimes and she left. With a bit of help”.


There is no direct admission in the diaries that Folbigg took any direct action that led to the deaths of her children.

But Folbigg was also on trial as a mother. She didn't cry enough. She wasn't warm. She was said to prefer going to the gym and nightclubs to being with her children. From there it was surely just a short step to murdering them,

In this, she was compared to Lindy Chamberlain, who was also portrayed as hard and uncaring, not sufficiently emotional following the death of her daughter Azaria. Chamberlain was also othered, cast aside from the mould of accepted motherhood, due to her perceived-as-strange religion of Seventh Day Adventism, for dressing the child in black, and rumours that Azaria’s name meant “sacrifice in the wilderness” – that far from being the doting mother, Chamberlain birthed her daughter to complete some ritualistic killing in the Australian outback.

We now know Lindy Chamberlain was not responsible for the death of her daughter.

Much was made of her  troubled background, with her father murdering her mother when Folbigg was a toddler, and from that time lived in a succession of foster homes and had difficulty forming attachments - as if a person's parenting skills can be forseen from their behaviour as a child growing up in unfamiliar homes.

Lacking forensic evidence, the prosecutions case relied on the opinion of doctors - who argued that the odds of four children in one family dying of SIDS were so statistically unlikely as to be impossible.

We also now know that SIDS seems to run in families - meaning the death of one child from SIDS makes the deaths of subsequent children more likely. 

The standard for criminal conviction in the Australian legal system is that the prosecution have proven their case "beyond a reasonable doubt". Whether or not Folbigg is guilty, her conviction is unsound. Her guilt was never proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It couldn't be. 

Luckily this is not being allowed to stand as it is. The Newcastle Legal Centre is currently working on a petition for a judicial review of the case, based on the lack of forensic evidence. So that will play out over the next year or so.

Kathleen Folbigg was created as a monster by the media and society by what she is supposed to have done. And she should not be in jail, not now, not whilst there is no concrete evidence or her guilt, not whilst her conviction relied on opinion rather than fact.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On Being A Non Custodial Mum

Separation is hard, but for no one is it harder than for kids. When DH and I realised us just wasn't working for us and I moved out, our main concern was for Baby G, who is four now, well past toddlerhood but still young enough to accept whatever is going on. So we thrashed around various shared parenting arrangements, but what it came down to for various complicated reasons was that I could either have primary custody of G during the week, or I could stay at uni. Deciding to do what is better for my son in the long run - me in a stable and reasonably paid career rather than bouncing between call centre jobs forever - rather than what is easy in the short term, I decided to stay at uni whilst G stays with his Dad during the week, and stays with me on the weekends; after I graduate, in a couple years, he will live with me.  I know he is safe and being well looked after. But I've become that creature anathema to society; the non custodial mother.

We've grown away from the idea that only a mother can provide proper care for her young child, but still, it seems unnatural somehow. I carried him for nine and a bit months, breastfed him for another sixteen, and now I don't see him for days at a time. I'm not there to cook him meals, bathe him, tuck him in and kiss him goodnight. Sometimes it's just about okay. Others I don't cope very well at all; I  cry in lecture theatres, on the train, when I hand him over to his Dad, when I see his favourite foods at the shops and think no need to stock up.

And I don't know where I fit in. Where are the support groups for the weekend mums? There's still such a norm of the single mum that if you don't have primary custody as a mother, there must be some issue - substance use, mental health, being an unmaternal bitch. When I explain that my kid doesn't live with me during the week, the response is usually a baffled "why?" which makes me disinclined to open up to people.

Can I even call myself a single mum? It's common, on the internet, when a partnered woman left alone whilst her partner travels complains of "feeling like a single mum" for actual single mums to retort "you are not a single mum. I have to do this all on my own, always, there's never anyone to share it with." When I hear this, I sometimes have to suppress an urge to say "at least you have your kids. I'm not there to soothe my child's nightmares or kiss his boo boos. Yes constant care is hard, but there's an aching gape in my soul almost all the time". And by this definition I'm not a single mum. All the parenting is shared, and I'm not doing most of it.

I don't know anyone else in my situation. There's no support group along the lines of Dads in Distress. And when you hear "men's rights advocates" whinging about a misandric court system handing custody to women, you hate even them more than you already did, and you didn't even think that was possible.

And whilst all this is going on, I'm also mourning the end of my marriage.

I try to keep focused, keep my eyes on the prize - that damn degree that represents financial security for me and G. Finally. Days when I'm tempted to drop out to spend time with my kid, I know I have to keep going. None of this is how I would have chosen or imagined life turning out, but there is much joy in my life when we are together. But much sadness too, and a sadness I can't share; unless you're reading this and in the same situation, in which case please drop me a line in the comments, I'd love to talk to you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dear Baby Boomers: I Hate You

Let's get a few things straight from the start. Baby boomers, I don't hate you individually. I've got nothing against you personally. I know you are an extremely diverse group. Many of you have struggled with poverty, disadvantage, racism, sexism and homophobia. Many of you have spent your lives working towards the betterment of society. You are not the people I'm talking about, here.

But I hate "baby boomers", as a group, who have enjoyed massive circumstances of privilege throughout their life course - and now vote and demand that subsequent generations do not share these privileges; and now squeal like stuck pigs when the structural inequality that you have benefited from is pointed out to you.

The number one complaint heard from baby boomers is that they had to work hard for everything they got. No doubt you did. But think about it. You could if you wanted leave school at 15 and get a respectable job. You knew that unless you stole from petty cash or turned up drunk, the job was yours to keep. You had a chance for promotion and progression. Training was provided on site. You got paid for it! And a lot of you didn't leave home until you got married. So, you decide to get married at 23, you want to buy a house and start a family - you've got eight years of savings there, with no debt and quite likely having paid little or nothing for housing.

Compare that to a 20 something, now. There are very few unskilled jobs for young people. Companies no longer train their employees - they want hires who are ready to go. As opposition leader Bill Shorten said today, in the near future two out of three jobs will require a university degree. So you have to stay in school, then go to university. So there you are, freshly graduated at 23, not with 8 years of savings, but with tens of thousands of dollars debt.

But surely that university graduate will be able to land a cushy job? Maybe, if you're lucky. But for most, stable employment is no guarantee. You might graduate with a teaching degree and be unable to land a stable teaching job and end up in the casual pool for years. Or with a nursing degree, not getting a new graduate hospital role and ending up working casually for a nursing agency. Or a business degree, and you land a junior role in a corporation, and 16 months later the company announces its closing your state's office and you and the other 350 employees join a flooded job market.

Or you're not that academic, and you've always wanted to be a hairdresser, but your local TAFE has closed and the only one offering the course costs too much even if you were able to get there, and so you end up in a depressing cycle of casual retail work and unemployment.

But the baby boomer, in mid twenties and wanting to buy a house, has worked hard for years. Because they had the opportunity to work hard. And now buying a house is a realistic proposition. Because the house price to income ratio in 1975, for example, was around 3. In Sydney now, it is 5.7. So essentially, houses are now almost twice as expensive compared to income.

So rather than realistically being able to buy a house with a comfortable chunk of savings at 23, the 23 year old today is burdened with a debt approaching six figures, unstable employment and no hope of buying a house. It may take many years to pay that debt off and actually start saving for a house. And whilst they are saving for that elusive deposit, house prices will march ever upwards. Meanwhile, you've paid off your home, maybe paid off a few, and have bought investment properties you rent out to the younger generations unable to afford to buy a place of their own. And you are guaranteed to make a profit, thanks to the taxpayer funded protection of negative gearing.

We can't put the genie of economic rationalism back in its bottle and restore the system of youth employment. But there are things we could do

We could increase funding for TAFE and universities, but you don't want that.

We could ease the pressure on house prices by abolishing negative gearing, but you don't want that.

You could even help out the less well off members of your cohort by giving up some of those superannuation tax concessions in order to increase the aged pension, but there's two chances of that.

And whenever any suggestion is made that you give up some of the massive privilege circumstances beyond your control gifted you, you blame Generation X and Millenials for their financial struggle. You say that you worked for what you got - well, yeah, you got the chance. You say that people today have far more consumer items than you had as a young adult - when standards of living have risen enormously over the past 40 years, the internet is an essential service not a luxury, many people require smartphones for work, and labour-saving devices are essential when trying to work enough hours to stay afloat financially. You blame young people for going on overseas trip, as if a $4000 backpacking trip around Europe if foregone would make up for the deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars caused by being born thirty years too late.

The more politically conservative amongst you would argue that sometimes life just isn't fair and you have to put up with it. I actually like this argument better. At least it's honest. But the baby boomers who insist the playing field is just as level for young people today as it was for them, who react with outrage when a few structural adjustments to their own lifestyles are suggested, who go off like a frog in a sock when it is proposed they give up a little of the enormous structural privilege they have benefited from to make it a bit easier for the generations that follow - you, you spoilt and selfish baby boomers, I hate you.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Breaking Point

Baby G turned four this week.. We spent the day in a peaceful seaside town, and he was gifted a Transformers set and surfboard amongst other things, had chicken schnitzel at the club for dinner, and ice cream cake, and fell asleep with all right in the world, as we thought how very lucky we are to have him.

 The next day the world woke to the heartbreaking picture of a little boy who will never be four, Aylan Kurdi, drowned on a Turkish beach, fleeing the war in Syria along with his mother and brother, who also died.

The world reacted with grief and horror, the current refugee crisis personified in the tiny body clad in his little red shirt and blue shorts, alone and wet on the sand.

We needed a solution, some way to help these people fleeing a situation more appalling than most of us could imagine, so bad they would risk their lives on flimsy boats to escape. Our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, had one. Europe could stop asylum seekers drowning by stopping the boats, as Australia claims to, turning them back to where they began.

Think about it.

Abbott would have sent the boat Aylan was on back to Syria.


And this is what Abbott would deem to be the humane solution. Death where we don't have to see or hear about it. That is what Abbott calls keeping people safe.

We’ve reached the breaking point. There have been many, many terrible things about the Abbott government, and almost nothing of worth. But this is the limit of what any decent person can consider tolerable. I’ve always said I don’t hate Abbott, just his policies, and if we wait it out he will get his just rewards at the next election, tossed out unceremoniously on his bony old behind.

No more. Abbott’s comments today have left me in shock, and I thought there was nothing he could do or say that was bad enough to shock me. The man is deluded, showing signs of a severe deficit of rationality, let alone compassion, which makes him a danger to himself and others – and the nation. He must go, now, by whatever means possible. Can we petition the Queen to sack him? Surely she has enough compassion and reverence for decency not to let Australia founder under this muppet. Time for a revolution in the streets? An Australian spring? I don’t know, I don’t want to. I’m busy, and tired. But if that is what it takes. Abbott is dangerous, and crazy, and a disgrace to Australia, and we have to do something, anything, to get rid of him. If anyone has any ideas, tell me. Let's work  together on this.

As for you, Aylan, a little boy who deserved better, I'm sorry. I'm sorry your life ended this way, and I'm sorry for our Prime Minister, who would send you back to what you lost your life escaping from.


Monday, August 03, 2015

Bronwyn Bishop, Phony Solicitor

So Bronwyn Bishop, the worst speaker the Australian House of Representatives has ever seen, was finally forced to resign yesterday, after weeks of condemnation for her brazen digging in the public till, from taking a helicopter ride to a party fundraiser when it would have been quicker to drive, to commandeering limousines to attend a night at the opera. Don't let the door hit your butt on the way out (actually, she retains her generous MPs salary and lavish superannuation, so she can still grift safely for the rest of her life).

So we know she was greedy and thoughtless. But it seems she's also a fraud. Wanting to know a bit more about what lead to this national nonsense, I headed to her Wikipedia article, where I saw this interesting information:

"Bishop undertook a five-year LLB program at the University of Sydney.[3] However, she was deemed ineligible to continue after failing a number of subjects multiple times.[4] Bishop failed a total of 11 subjects over six years.[4] In her first year in 1960, she failed all four core subjects. In 1964, she failed four subjects again, and repeated them in 1965, in which she failed three again. The policy of the University of Sydney at the time was that a student was required to show cause why they should be allowed to repeat a subject for a third time, and Bishop was deemed ineligible to continue."

There's no mention of her ever completing the degree at the University of Sydney or any other institution. Now, I know uni can be a tough time in a young person's life and I cast no aspersions on Mrs Bishop for struggling with her studies. But haven't we always been told that prior to entering politics, she was a solicitor? That's what it says on her official parliament house biography. Yet interestingly, unlike other University of  Sydney law graduates, such as Tony Abbott, Tony BurkeMalcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey (Christ there's a lot of them), there is no mention of a law degree or any other degree, nor is she listed as a University of Sydney alumni.

In order to become a solicitor in NSW, you must first complete (not, you know, repeatedly fail out of) an accredited degree, complete practical legal training requirements and be issued a compliance certificate by the Legal Profession Admission Board. Without a law degree, this couldn't have happened. (Edit: there's some indication here that she was allowed to take, and passed, the Solicitor's Board exams anyway, which seems akin to being allowed to do a hospital internship though you failed medicine).

So in what capacity, what way was she a solicitor? You cannot just call yourself a solicitor when you're not qualified, or even if you are working as a law clerk. You can't fail a medicine degree or be a medical secretary and call yourself a doctor. Was she practicing illegally, or (as far more likely), just embarrassed about her lack of qualifications and stretching the truth to make herself look better?

But if Mrs Bishop has never qualified as a solicitor she has no right to call herself one, certainly had no right to campaign as a candidate with the aura of stability, authority and commitment that calling herself a solicitor implies. Enough of the phony solicitor career, Mrs Bishop, unless the legal profession is not what you meant by calling yourself such.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

On Bob Ellis

Yes he was perhaps the Piers Akerman of the left and could be a bit grumpy and crazy at times (I have seen this first hand and can attest) and yet. When I read "First Abolish the Customer" at 19, it was a political awakening, a fundamental shift in my consciousness, and it set me on the political path I continue today, and my enduring hatred of the stifling parasitic cancer of economic rationalism. (Studying social science, then social work, at university, I think I have referenced that book in every essay I've written). And so it went: Ellis's words and books have been there to illuminate and enlighten every major political event in the nearly 20 years (dear god, so long) since, the proudly defiant Ellis shelf on my bookcase.

And now he is dying, and it feels like the pending loss of a grumpy uncle. perhaps, whom you nevertheless had great affection for, and the liver cancer he says will kill him means he will never see the end of the Abbott government. Not here to make his predictions and divine pronouncements, not even to see his personal nemesis Bronwyn Bishop get the justice that must be coming. Not here to inform, infuriate and amuse.

And I feel like crying, and I never would have expected that.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Most Important Pro-choice Argument

So many arguments between the pro- and anti- choice movements on abortion come down to a key issue - what is a human life and when does it begin? When sperm meets egg, which considering that 50% of all conceptions never implant, which means a sexually active women should probably hold a funeral every time she menstruates, just in case? At the quickening, as was church teaching throughout history? At birth?

Here's the thing. When we're talking about abortion, it doesn't matter when life begins. That's not the point.

Even if you believe that human life, in all its worth, begins at conception, in denying an abortion to a woman who wants one, in forcing her to use her body to protect a human baby, you are forcing her to use her body to sustain another life. We don't do that in any other circumstance. We don't even do that after death, seeing that organ donation is not compulsory; you can choose to be buried or cremated with your organs even if it means the death of people waiting for donor organs. Imagine that there was a shortage of donor blood, and it being mandated by legislation that people donate blood. Imagine a person who needs a kidney transplant, without which they will die, and you being told that you are a match and you must donate your kidney.

Both would be outrageous deprivations of bodily autonomy and we would not consider them even if they would save lives. But in the case of a pregnant woman who does not wish to remain pregnant, to deny her an abortion is to force her to use her body to sustain another life against her will. Instead of comparing embryos to acorns, we may well ask why the body and wishes of a dead person are considered worthy of respect but not the body and wishes of a live woman.

If saving lives at all costs is the aim and we are willing to disregard people's wishes in regards to their own bodies in order to save them, surely compelling blood and organ donation would make sense. But why is abortion considered so wrong? Simply because it, as pro-lifers see it, ends a human life? Or is there more to it than that? Of course there is. If a woman finds herself unintentionally pregnant, she must be punished for that. It's not about saving lives. It never was.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What The Catholic Church Really Believes About Homosexuality

In my quest for spiritual awareness, I've been keeping an eye on a few Catholic websites and forums lately. As you might expect, they're none too happy about the SCOTUS decision legalising same sex marriage across the United States. They're unhappy because homosexuality is unnatural and evil and disgusting, right? Actually, no. I used to believe that was the Church's stance on homosexuality; I was wrong. It's something quite else entirely; however, I wouldn't be expecting Pope Francis to be rocking the rainbow vestments any time soon. Let's go to the official teaching of the Church, the Catechism:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333) 2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

There's some of your "love the sinner, hate the sin" stuff right there. Catholicism teaches that having homosexual attraction is not  a sin, acting on it is. Gay people are apparently meant to live celibate (and very likely lonely and frustrating) lives as an example of piety to the rest of us, because...God made them that way. Because, somehow, this or this or this is against the natural order of things, and children need a mother and a father according to the institution which in my home nation of Ireland for decades took children away from their unmarried mothers and raised them institutions, when they weren't selling them to America or neglecting them to death and dumping the bodies in unmarked graves.

I digress.

Anyway, it is never going to change. Catholics believe that the Church cannot change; any change to what they believe is the Church as Jesus ordained it would mean it was no longer the Catholic church. But they're still worried that this means end times are upon us, that God will finally lose his patience with our sinful ways (he was completely cool with the Holocaust, but this gay marriage thing really ticks him off). It's all a little weird - God made you gay and that's okay, but act on it and you're going to hell. Crazy, but that's how it goes. I think I might see what those Uniting folk are up to instead.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stuff Baby G Says

Baby G is three and a half. An only child. A little odd (can't think where he gets it).

This is some stuff he has said.


  • We were enjoying the play area at the Newcastle museum when for no apparent reason he bolted for the door at top speed. Upon catching up and asking why, he said "there was a tiger" and refused to elaborate further.


  • Told no because Santa is coming soon when asking for a toy near Christmas: "Santa will be very happy to see me".


  • Play acting a phone call, as he placed the phone in the cradle: "That was a rabbit".
    "A talking rabbit?"
    "Yeah, it speaks English".


  • The night before Easter Sunday, told the Easter bunny is coming tonight: "So will there be eggs for me tomorrow?"
    Coy parent: "Maaayyybe...."
    "So there may not?"


  • "When I grow up I'm going to buy Mummy a new ipad, because hers is broken"
    "And how did it break?" (he stood on it)
    "...the next one won't break"


  • He believed for weeks on end his favourite Transformer was named Optimus Program, and could not be convinced otherwise.


  • Ran for the toilet exclaiming "my bladder!"


  • Hospitalised for asthma after a day and night struggling to breathe, to the doctors: "My lungs have a cold".


  • Said to G and (male) cat: "I love you two, you're my boys"
    G: "Xander isn't a boy, he's a cat"
    "He's a boy cat"
    "No, he's a regular cat".


  • Tiny scratch on hand possibly caused by thin twig or similar, and at least 24 hours old: "My hand is all bloody and sore and I need to rest with your ipad"


  • "You've traipsed mud all over the floor!"
    "I think the cat did it"


  • Remarked to partner that we should go to pub to meet some of my Sydney friends.
    "Me too, I want to have pink drink and pizza and make friends"



  • Apropos of nothing: "I want to burn my friends"
    "You what?"
    With considerable relish: "I want to burn my friends!"


  • At the pool: "You need to stay beside me all the time when we're in the water"
    "Yes. I might die."


  • Asked what he wants to be when he grows up: "I don't want to be anything. I just want to be Baby G. And have cake". Although this is unacceptable to his mother who will only accept the career choices of 1. doctor 2. doctor 3. failure who is written out of the will (and he won't be choosing my nursing home, if you're worried about that - I have no intention of living that long).
  • Friday, May 22, 2015

    The Most Disturbing Thing About the Duggar Sex Abuse Scandal

    Rumours have been swirling for years; he always did seem a bit slimy, a bit creepy - but today it was confirmed that in 2006 Josh Duggar of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting was investigated for sexually molesting several underage girls over the period 2002-2003. It hasn't been confirmed that these girls were his sisters, but all lived in the same house as him, Josh's parents are named as the victims' parents, and one of them is said to be underage now, in 2015 - his sister, Joy, who was five years old in 2003.

    I'll wait whilst the bile rising in your throat settles.

    Josh's father, Jim Bob (yee haw) apparently waited over a year before taking Josh to the police; the investigating officer (who was later jailed himself for child pornography offences) gave Josh a stern talking to but took it no further, the statute of limitations expired, and that was seemingly that. The family reportedly "turned closer to God", Josh married and had several children, and, educated at home with no experience or qualifications, got a cushy job with the far right lobby group Family Research Council, where amongst other things he was paid wads of money to infer that gay people are child molesters, whilst his mother says the same of transgender people in telephone robocalls.

    Waiting for the further bile to settle.

    With the allegations coming to light this week, Josh has now resigned from the Council; no word yet though on whether TLC will pull the massively successful reality show. It seems inevitable, given that Honey Boo Boo was cancelled when the main adult star began dating a man who sexually abused her daughter years before - but the most passionate of the Duggar defenders won't hear of it. We all make mistakes, they say, and Josh was young. Hey, if as a 16 year old he got drunk and urinated on the high school football field, that's a youthful mistake. Repeatedly molesting his own sisters - one of whom was barely past toddlerhood - that's not a childish indiscretion. That is really fucking disturbing.

    But the main reason the show should stay on the air, they say, is that the whole affair is proof of the redemptive power of God's love. His parents have forgiven him, God has forgiven him - and so have his victims, his sisters. That is what is so unsettling here - the idea that they have forgiven him. Did they ever have a choice?

    That the family kept this whole thing a secret for so long whilst playing pious happy families on TV is bad enough, and the girls may well have been told to shut up and smile to keep the cameras and money rolling. But there's an even deeper reason why the Duggar girls would have been told to keep their happy faces on, and it gets to the heart of the weird, cultish pseudo-Christianity the Duggars practice. The Duggars are followers of a strain of Independent Baptism preached by figures such as Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard that makes up tonnes of their own rules you won't find anywhere in the Bible, like courtship and long perms. And one of the key tenets of their childraising philosophy is a "cheerful countenance". Children must now show their true emotions, are not allowed to be sad or frustrated or grumpy or traumatised - they must have joyful countenance and a light in their eyes; to do otherwise is showing disrespect for authority and displeasure with God. I'll quote from this excellent post, "An open letter to the Duggar defenders", which was written by someone raised in the same homeschooling, large family independent Southern Baptist culture:

    The Duggar parents are following parenting gurus who teach that unhappiness or a sour disposition is disobedience. In this climate, what child would have anything but a smile? There is no other option. I also grew up on these teachings. I remember being punished for having a “bad mood.” My siblings and I looked happy, on the outside, and that outward appearance was not always wrong. But sometimes it was—sometimes it was very, very wrong, because being discontented was seen as sin, and was punished. Of course children will look happy, when that is the only option they are allowed. 

    When you thrown in TV, in the case of the Duggars, that only ups the ante. While my family was not on TV, my parents were keenly aware that we were on display everywhere we went. When we went out in public, mom wiped our faces and put bows in our hair, and before we were allowed to get out of the car at our destination we were always given the standard pep talk: “Remember that you are representing Christians, and you are representing homeschoolers, and you are representing big families,” she would say. “Be on your best behavior.” You better believe the Duggar children have heard that same pep talk time and again.


    The Duggar girls were forced to smile, and more than likely forced to forgive as well - they've written extensively about how no argument or disagreement is allowed between siblings in their household. And eventually acting becomes believing; the girls may well think they have forgiven Josh. But it's doubtful they ever had much choice. What does it say about your worth to a young woman if you are abused and your abuser is not punished and allowed to stay at home? If you are told to keep your mouth shut except to smile for the cameras for years on end? I just hope the network makes the statement about sex abuse the parents wouldn't, and cancel the show. And the girls sue Josh's sorry ass and buy a nice apartment in New York.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Abuse at Catholic Schools - I hope things have changed

    It's a fairly minor story - an anecdote, really - compared to the horrors being exposed, continuously, at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse; the Catholic school in Ballarat where at one point in the 1970s every teacher was a child sex abuser, the class at that school where 12 of 33 pupils have committed suicide.

    And yet I tell this little tale of the attitude of a teacher at a Catholic school in the 1980s towards quite probable child sex abuse, to shine a light on how children were viewed at the time, on how signs of abuse were viewed, on how much "pastoral care" was going on, on just how they were able to get away with the whole thing for so long.

    Whilst I never really had a group of friends, in the late 1980s, in my later years of primary school at a Catholic school in Sydney's northern beaches, I briefly joined a group of girls in my year to draw comics. We all loved to sit on the playground and draw and write stories in stacks of exercise books - a stack we left behind one day after lunch, in the rush of the bell ringing and heading to line up before heading back to class. And a teacher found them.

    One of the little girls, 9 or 10 years old, had unwitnessed by the rest of us, drawn some very explicit pictures of people engaged in sexual acts.

    Okay, I'm a youth worker and halfway through a social work degree, so I've had training on what to do in these situations - but, you know, I'd hope teachers would have some clue on what to do as well. There could be a semi-innocent explanation for a 9 year old girl to be drawing things like that - maybe she'd accessed a copy of Penthouse she wasn't meant to find (although, whilst my memory isn't precise - I only saw the images briefly, which I'll get to - I didn't want to see them - I remember them being a deal more explicit than Penthouse fare, and forget seeing this stuff online, this was an era when many people didn't even have VCRs).

    But we must assume the worst, for the child's own protection, where there is any suspicion of child sexual abuse; careful, discreet questioning about where she'd seen people doing these things and why she was drawing them, and a notification to child protective services, where trained staff can properly assess the situation and work out the best course of action for the child.

    None of this happened. My class teacher (and acting principal), decided I had drawn the pictures, and shouted at me in front of the class, as tears dripped down my face, telling me I was a dirty, disgusting little girl and that Jesus would be ashamed.

    I was bullied about it for weeks.

    I didn't know what the pictures were - I was not abused at home or Catholic school, let me be clear, and had almost no idea what sex was at that stage. But they thought I drew them, and no one ever asked me where I had seen such things or why I'd copy them.

    So that is why we can see a bit of why child sex abuse was allowed to go on openly for so long; kids disbelieved, doubted, cast as shameful and dirty if any evidence came to light.

    I hope things have changed.

    But what I really hope most of all is that the little girl who drew those pictures had seen a surreptitious video or something, and was just copying what she saw. I really hope that was all.

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    Mutant Miranda Devine

    Just in time for Mother's Day, News columnist Miranda Devine has trotted out a rather bizarre article blaming "mutant feminists" for creating an atmosphere of rape hysteria, where the merest hint of a rape allegation ruins men's lives and turns the accusers into media darlings.

     It's the continuing theme of right wing women relentlessly criticising feminism they don't understand, until one of their own comes under attack and they demand to know where is the "sisterhood" (if Julie Bishop, say, comes under sexist attack then I'll condemn that but I still hate her politics). In this case, Devine claims feminists have created such an hysteria about rape claims that . It's telling that Devine uses an example of an apparent false rape allegation from the US; apparently there were no Australian cases worth citing.

    If we are going to deal in anecdotes, allow me to share one that's much closer to home, literally; a few metres from my house is a billboard featuring the grinning countenance of a man, a former sporting star from my hometown, who is now a well-paid breakfast radio presenter. Some years ago, he was accused, on a respected current affairs show, of taking part in the gang rape of a 19 year old girl whilst on a sporting trip. The clearly distressed young woman detailed the devastating effects of the incident, the post traumatic stress disorder and suicide attempts, stating that the men had ruined her life. The man made a public mea culpa seated next to his wife, admitting ten or more men, of whom he was one, had sex with the woman in a hotel room at the same time, but it had all been consensual. The police investigated, but with only the testimony of the individuals involved to go on, no charges were filed. The man at the centre of the allegations was stood down from his role as a commentator on one network, but quickly picked up by another, and built a radio and media career that continues to this day.

    The merest hint of a rape allegation can ruin a man's life forever, decry right wingers and MRAs, as I see the face of a man I and many others legitimately believe to be a rapist staring down from his media profile and I feel a bit sick. And can I make a suggestion? We need a modified  version of Godwin's law - Elam's law? - that whoever mentions "false rape allegations" in a discussion on feminism, loses. I think that would be fitting.

    Saturday, May 02, 2015

    You Can't Compare Chan and Sukumaran to Australian Soldiers

    I've seen a couple of remarks from people upset that, following the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia last week, the media have been referring to the repatriation of their bodies as "bringing our boys home". One poster who was very upset - you could tell from the lots and lots of exclamation marks - that this is the same term used to describe Australian troops returning from Iraq. They were very disgusted at the comparison, and they are right. You really can't compare them.

    Because unlike the people who would have used the heroin Chan and Sukumaran would have imported, the people of Iraq got no say whatsoever at being put at risk of death.

    Because unlike Chan and Sukumaran, I haven't heard too many Australian soldiers who've returned from Iraq admit that the invasion was a grave mistake. That it was based on a lie, that Iraq never posed any threat to Australia, that hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed, that the subsequent chaos gave birth to ISIL - which may now be a threat to us all. I haven't heard returned soldiers beg for forgiveness, beg kids not to be as stupid as they were in blindly following the wrong orders. I haven't seen a whole lot of atonement.

    Because I haven't seen any opponents of the war who would be graceless, heartless, just plain rude enough to say of a deceased soldier whose grieving family have not yet even had a chance to bury him, "well, they went overseas on a mission they knew could end in death, what did they expect".

    You really can't compare them.

    Monday, March 23, 2015

    Asthma and what came after

    Gosh, it's been simply ages since I've posted. I've been a bit busy. Starting at a new uni, it not quite working, starting at a different uni, job hunting, house hunting, volunteering on the state election campaign, traffic snarls, political trouble both at home and abroad...but I've promised DH the second all those things go away, we'll have sex. (Except I'm writing this post first. Sorry, honey!).

    Then there was the small matter of Baby G getting sick. He's always been a robust and healthy kid, not inheriting his father's skin and respiratory issues, and I thought if he didn't develop problems after living next to the coal trains in Newcastle for two years, he never would. So when he popped up one Saturday a couple weeks back with what seemed to be a bit of a cold, I wasn't too concerned. He was a bit lethargic but still cheerful; I rubbed his little chest with Vaporub, wrapped him warmly, planned to make a chicken soup he wouldn't eat.

    But as the day wore on, his breathing became increasingly laboured. By evening, DH wanted to take him to hospital. I demurred; it was getting late, and cold, and surely Baby G was better off tucked up in his bed than sitting in emergency for hours on end? But in the end I deferred to the experience of asthmatic with a nursing degree, and we headed in to RPA, to be sent home with antibiotics for a respiratory tract infection after a boring few hours wait, I imagined.

    In casualty, it was obvious his breathing was becoming very laboured, and we were taken straight through to the resus bay to monitor his oxygen levels. Despite the struggle to breathe, he was still Baby G, introducing himself to the doctors: "Hello, I'm...gasp...Gabriel...Surname....gasp...my....lungs have a cold". He didn't have a fever or any other signs of infection, but the poor kid was panting like he was running a marathon and his blood oxygen was hovering around 90%. Hourly Ventolin was prescribed, and steroids, until he could be stabilised enough to be moved to the ward.

    And yet he didn't seem sick. He wasn't scared or sad or fussing; he was fascinated by everything that was going on, asking nurses what their names were and what their job was and what that piece of equipment is called and what does it do. Then for us, there was nothing to do but wait. He was never in any real danger, and I was very grateful to be living in a country that (for now) provided this level of medical care for free. Finally, around about midnight, Baby G was admitted to the children's ward, DH stayed with him, and I headed home to grab a few hours sleep.

    Next morning I arrived at the hospital to relieve DH with fresh clothes, Mr Bun, and a fully charged iPad. This was where the fun started. G looked much too well to be in hospital, but couldn't be discharged until he was stable on three-hourly Ventolin. There was a play room, but that soon wore thin for an active three year old who was soon demanding to "go...home...NOW!". When even unlimited iPad, a treat strictly forbidden at home, loses its thrill you know things are getting rough.

    I have no idea...no idea...how parents of chronically ill children cope. None. I got a tiny little insight into their world, the world of hospitals and conditions and worry, and whilst I guess you just have to get on with your lot in life, seriously, props to those people. Hospitals are their own little universes, and even after one day, it was jarring to step outside after we were discharged back into the real world.

    But anyway, there I was at 1pm being given the official diagnosis; my kid has asthma. It's not entirely a surprise; DH had multiple stays in hospital under an oxygen tent by Baby G's age. G has a much milder case than that, but we've still entered into the world of treatment plans and management and knowing when to call the ambulance. Oh, and those steroids I mentioned? They can lower his immunity. So now I'm one of those parents who is relying on heard immunity to protect my vaccinated child. So yeah, I've gone from vaccine skeptic, to individual rights, to "shut up and vaccinate your kids, you selfish dolt". But I'm lucky; I got to take my tired but basically okay kid home.

    A couple of lovely people sent messages whilst we were in hospital, asking was I okay being at RPA. I was; separate wards and all. The staff were all lovely. But as for inspiring my confidence...hospital administration have told me the deficiencies in my treatment when Baby G was born were because I "fell through the cracks", rather than gross cruelty and incompetence. We didn't see any cruelty, but as G was being discharged I noticed his weight was listed on his discharge papers as 10.2Kg. Now, he'd been weighed the night before at admission - and his weight was 18.2Kg. This wasn't a petty matter of accuracy like spelling his name right - his body weight is what they used to calculate the dosage of his medication and when I pointed out the error, his doses had to be reconfigured. Surely, surely a medical professional working with kids all day should notice that a kid weighs barely more than half of what he should, or that a tall, sturdy, fit three-and-a-half year old kid should weigh more than ten kilos? Some slipping through the cracks, I guess.

    Anyway, G is fine now, usually pretty good at taking his meds and I've pimped out his puffer and spacer with stickers and such. And hopefully "Dad knew I needed to go to hospital but Mum just thought I had a cold" won't become an anecdote told at the 21st. Who'd be a parent, huh? I'm glad we're just doing this once. Probably. For now.

    Thursday, March 05, 2015

    Can We Save These Two Lives?

    Very moving scenes from this morning's candlelight vigil in Canberra to save the lives of Andrew Chan and Muyuran Sukumaran. Some have lamented the amount of media attention these men are getting. "If only we paid this much attention to women killed by domestic violence." I for one am glad of the attention Chan and Sukumaran are getting - the face of a united Australia may be the best chance to convince the Indonesian government to save their lives.

    But it's not a zero sum game; I also wish this much media attention was given to violence against women. The deaths of women at the hands of their partners is an unspeakable tragedy in Australia that we must start speaking about - 17 so far just this year; the latest the mother of a week-old baby allegedly killed with an axe by her ex-partner the day after she sought court protection from him (I'm a pretty hardened type and it takes a lot to shock me, but dear God).

    So, how can we save the lives of the next two women who will be killed by their current or former partners - and the lives of all the women who will tragically follow?

    We know almost nothing about these women. We don't know their education levels, income, whether they live in the city or rural or regional Australia, their ethnic background, their occupation, their religious affiliation. That's the thing about domestic violence; it cuts across all these factors, discriminating by absence against no group in society. We do know that these women have an average age in their 30s, and are more likely than the general female population to be pregnant at the time of their deaths. We can ask why they didn't leave, if they were so afraid, when in fact the act of leaving a violent relationship is the most dangerous time.

    We don't know their names, we can't look at their photos, can't read of their accomplishments and the impact their lives have made on those around them; and that makes it that much harder to rally against the upcoming deaths of these women. We don't know if their deaths will come as the result of a stunning, unforeseen act of violence from a "lovely guy" who "just snapped"; or whether they are the culmination of years of terror, of court orders, of refuge stays, of police visits, of lives disrupted, of interstate moves to escape, of being followed, of despair that it will never end, of final moments of horror that it will end like this.

     But we know not a one of these deaths was in any way deserved. And we know, if we are to hold on to our vaunted status as a society of equality and value for human life, we have to prevent them. We have to try.

    We are just starting to take this problem seriously as a community. The government announced it is funding a $30 million domestic violence awareness campaign; domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty named as Australian of the Year.

    But does awareness do anything to stop the deaths. Where do we start with prevention? By addressing our violent culture - that we don't have an alcohol problem as much as we have a violence problem? Starting at the very beginning of the life cycle, by making it illegal for parents to hit their children, ending the very underpinning of our society that it is okay for the bigger, stronger person to hit a smaller, weaker person who disobeys and displeases them? (The latter has been something I have advocated for many years - and if you study the debates that were taking place around the time it became a crime for a man to hit his wife, the same objections were made as the objections we hear against banning smacking today - it is a private matter, it is my right, discipline, keeping society under control). Stiffer penalties? Measures designed to help victims, such as the Victorian law of defensive homicide, intended to be used in cases of sustained domestic violence that ended up being used largely by perpetrators, not victims?

    I don't have all the answers. There is no repository of all the answers. We can but say "Do more. Try harder. Start now". There can be research grants, laws, a royal commission. In the meantime, women we don't know will die. I wish I could end on a note of hope. There may even be a final slim hope for Chan and Sukumaran, but can we save the lives of the women we never knew.